Storm future in good hands with Hampton
On the eve of the 2014 season this was arguably a Melbourne Storm team on the slide, with Cooper Cronk, Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Ryan Hoffman all over 30 years of age.
With these stars ageing it seemed that the Victorian side's sustained era of success would draw to a close.
However the club's next generation is determined to see these pundits eat their words.
One in particular has slipped into the number six jersey with no intention of relinquishing it any time soon.
Ben Hampton was signed as a 14-year-old from Mareeba in Queensland's north – it would take another seven years for him to get his first grade chance but now the 22-year-old's patience looks to have paid dividends.
While Cronk's partner in the halves was a topic of much debate throughout the off-season, Hampton has stopped any such discussion in its tracks on the back of two solid games to start the year.
Strong pre-season form gave coach Craig Bellamy no choice but to hand Hampton first crack at five-eighth, as Melbourne looked to fill the void left by Gareth Widdop's off-season departure to the Dragons.
"I knew the spot was going to be up for grabs and I was really keen to put in and try and get the jumper first," said Hampton.
"It was definitely a massive confidence boost knowing that he (Bellamy) had that sort of faith in me to start off in the six. Now I just need to play my role in the team and hopefully stay there."
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To learn his craft in the halves, Hampton has no better mentor to learn from than Dally M medalist Cooper Cronk. The young man already admits to tapping into the plethora of knowledge that his fellow Queenslander has only been too happy to share.
"He is helping me with stuff every day at training," said Hampton.
"In the video sessions and everywhere else he's always telling me little things I can work on to help myself and help the team and I'm trying to do that every week.
"He is probably the best half in the game at the moment and it is unreal having blokes of his calibre at the club and me playing in the same position."
The early signs suggest Hampton could follow Cronk into the rep scene down the track. Premature premonitions are a dangerous thing, but representative football is not foreign to Hampton.
He represented Queensland at under-15, -16 and -18 levels and captained the junior Maroons in the inaugural Under-20 State of Origin match in 2012.
Despite having just four first-grade appearances on his resume, the young half cannot help but envisage pulling on the Maroon jersey at senior level.
"Definitely, hopefully one day in the future," said Hampton.
"At the moment I am focused on playing my role for the Melbourne Storm, certainly this season.
"But down the track though I think it is definitely every kid's dream growing up to put on a Maroon jersey and play State of Origin."
Given the young man's bright start to his NRL career, in the years to come we may not only be seeing a changing of the guard in the halves for the Storm but perhaps the Queensland side as well.
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